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A new era for cancer treatment

This is predicted by world-renowned researcher, Professor Richard Marais, as he receives the Worldwide Cancer Research Colin Thomson Memorial Medal for his outstanding contribution to cancer research.

The Beatson International Cancer conference takes place in Glasgow this week from 3rd-6th July. Worldwide Cancer Research is proud to co-sponsor this important meeting of minds and continue encouraging scientific collaborations around the world.

The Colin Thomson Memorial Medal has been awarded each year since 2007 to a scientist in recognition of their outstanding contribution to research into cancer. It is named after Dr Colin Thomson, a lecturer in theoretical chemistry, who established Worldwide Cancer Research (formerly known as AICR) in 1984.

This year’s medal winner and keynote speaker is former Worldwide Cancer Research grant holder, Professor Richard Marais PhD. He is Director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and a Professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Manchester.

Professor Marais is a world-leading expert on the causes of melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. In 2002 he contributed to the discovery that BRAF is a cancer causing gene in around half of all human melanomas.  Much of his work has focused on the role of this gene and  protein, including some work funded by Worldwide Cancer Research. He uses knowledge of BRAF to develop new therapeutic strategies for melanoma patients and his work has won him numerous awards and prizes.

This week it also emerged that Professor Marais and colleagues in Manchester will form a key element of US President Barack Obama’s “moonshot” initiative to revolutionise cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Working with American colleagues, scientists in Manchester will develop and refine a sensitive new “liquid biopsy” test that detects tumour cells circulating in the bloodstream. The aim is to get the technology, which helps doctors identify cancer patients at risk of relapse, into clinics around the world as quickly as possible. Ultimately it is hoped the research will lead to a simple blood test that can spot early signs of cancer in otherwise healthy people.

This ties in with the focus of Professor Marais’s talk at the Beatson International Cancer Conference – a new era of cancer treatment. In his keynote address, Professor Marais will discuss how new therapies, including immunotherapy, where a patient’s own immune system is bolstered to attack tumour cells, is revolutionizing cancer treatment. However, these new therapies do not work for all patients, and for other people the cancer can often overcome the therapies, leaving patients with few options.

Professor Marais believes the future of cancer treatment will be focussed on the acceptance that all people, and therefore all tumours, are unique and must be treated as such. By understanding, at the genetic level, the subtle differences between each tumour, then new therapies can be developed and patients can be offered treatments unique to them, a concept known as precision medicine. However, this is not easy. It is technically difficult, ethically complex and can be extremely expensive. It also takes time, which many patients sadly do not have.

The future of cancer medicine holds great promise, but there are substantial challenges. The key question for patients is, how long will it take?

Science Communication Manager at Worldwide Cancer Research

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